Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

August 8, 2011

It felt like 110 degrees in the Mount Vernon blacksmith shop, even without the bellows fanning the fire.  Two young craftsman, in 18th century clothing were making authentic hinges using tools and techniques developed over 200 years ago.  The cabin on the Mount Vernon estate was filled with families and adults, asking questions about the implements and products displayed.  One of the costumed craftsman, answering a pre-teen’s question about a square nail on display explained that this shop, the property of General George Washington, a wealthy and forward thinking gentleman farmer, was quite antiquated in its time.  This was a small, rural farm, there were much more advanced smithing tools in major cities, he explained.  I couldn’t help but think of all the 21st century  children who, surrounded with cutting edge technology, complain to their parents that they need the latest gadget.

Apparently technology  getting old is not a new phenomenon.  George Washington’s laborers wished for the shiniest new tools just like our children want the newest cell phone or computer game.  The pace of change has become more rapid, meaning we hear ever more frequently requests for updates and upgrades from children who feel an urgent need for the new.  Along with parents through the ages, our task is to figure out how and when to say no.

“No” is easier to hear before you have asked for “Yes”.  In other words, once your teen asks for the I-phone, they are not terribly receptive to your reasoned explanation of why they can’t have it.  If parents anticipate the request, and pre-empt it with a cogent plan –  “when you have a job and can pay ½ the monthly fee can you get a smart phone” – they make the “no” easier to accept.

Today’s parents are also confronted with the aging down of technology.  Five years ago, only teenagers had cell phones, then middle school students got them.  Now second graders are telling parents, “but everyone else has one. . . “  Here, too, parents can set parameters early:  “In our family, you get a cell phone when you are old enough for after school activities”.  The reality,  however, is that parents need to regularly re-assess these parameters.  When our children were teens, we blocked texting from their phones, wanting them to use the phones only for important calls.  When we discovered that friends, and even teachers and youth groups were using text messages to communicate, and our sons were missing important events,
we changed our anti-texting policy.

Touring Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s  luxurious estate, I fantasized  that children in the “olden days”  appreciated their dolls and toys, realizing that updated versions would be a long time coming.  I’m sure the dynamic of children asking and wanting, and parents setting limits is not new. When parents moderate their children’s seemingly insatiable need for the latest doodad or gadget they teach such an important lesson.  Children won’t greet this lesson with smiles and thank-you’s.  They’ll moan and whine that you are stingy, old-fashioned, and if you’re lucky you’ll earn the title “the worst parent in the world”.  In fact, parents saying “no” to these childhood greedies are offering a generous gift – a lesson in patience and
appreciation of the difference between want and need.   These tools belong in every child’s tool box . . . and they never become old-fashioned or obsolete.

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